People, Prosperity and the Planet

Bringing EPA's latest P3 award information to you on National Bioenergy Day
By Ron Kotrba | October 22, 2014

Happy National Bioenergy Day! While it’s great to have this special day in the fall, now in its second year, along with the ever-popular National Biodiesel Day in March and Earth Day in April, for many of us involved in renewable energy day-in and day-out, every day is—or should be—celebrated as such an occasion.

In honor of this day, my FAME Forum blog entry this week is about university student award winners under the EPA’s People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) program. Last week, the agency announced up to $15,000 for each of 42 student teams to pursue projects that deliver sustainable, alternative approaches to address environmental challenges as part of P3 program.

“Each year, the projects and designs created by the P3 teams surpass expectations,” said Lek Kadeli, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “These students are creating sustainable solutions for our everyday needs, addressing some of the United States’ most challenging environmental issues and helping create a vibrant, growing economy.”

Past P3 teams have used their winning ideas to form small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Environmental Fuel Research, a 2008 P3 winner from Drexel University, incorporated its grease waste-trap biofuel technology into a business enterprise and won a $100,000 EPA Small Business Innovation Research Phase I award this year. This woman-owned startup, headquartered in a historically underutilized business (HUB) zone to encourage economic development, has the potential to revolutionize domestic biodiesel capacity in the U.S.   

Since 2004, the P3 Program has provided funding to student teams in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, committing over $10 million to cutting-edge, sustainable projects designed by university students.

One of this year’s P3 winners is focused on small-scale biodiesel production issues, while another winner is working to improve algae growth for advanced biofuel production.

Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts won a P3 award for its small-scale, campus-based biodiesel project. The project is titled, “Southeastern Massachusetts Student Network for Biodiesel Research and Education.” Its summary states, “The small scale production of biodiesel fuel from waste vegetable oil (WVO) has been a popular activity for sustainability education in colleges and high schools. However, the full educational impact has not been realized due to inherent safety issues and inefficiency of the overall process. An interdisciplinary group of Bridgewater State University students will apply sustainability and green chemistry principles to critically examine the efficiency of biodiesel production from WVO, identify limitations and propose potential solutions. An innovative research and education plan will be developed through a Biodiesel Research and Education Network with students from BSU, community colleges and high schools.”

Johns Hopkins University’s P3 award is based on its algae work. Titled, “Sustainable Algal Biofuels Solution: Sourcing Carbon and Recycling Nutrients from Waste Treatment Processing,” its project summary states, “Algae represent a potentially sustainable energy source that can utilize CO2 to generate liquid fuels including diesel and jet fuel,” states its project summary. “Unfortunately, algal biofuel processes are not yet economically viable. Algal systems that utilize photosynthesis alone can sequester CO2 and remove undesirable nutrients from water but suffer from low culture density and lipid content insufficient for biofuels. Alternatively, algae can generate high cell concentrations and lipid content when grown heterotrophically or mixotrophically on supplemental organic carbon (e.g., glucose) and nutrients (e.g., N and P). However, these supplements increase process costs and hinder commercial feasibility through the application of expensive chemical fertilizers, which limits processes from becoming economically viable. This research program addresses sustainability of both energy production and water treatment by applying an innovative three-stage process that utilizes waste run-off as nutrients to generate sugar-rich substrates for generation of advanced liquid biofuels through enhanced algal bioprocessing.”

Funding for the P3 projects is divided into two phases. In the first phase, student teams submit a proposal for a project, and if they are selected, they compete with other Phase I winners at the National Sustainable Design Expo in Washington, D.C. At the Expo, teams compete for Phase II funding of up to $75,000.

For the full list of award recipients, click here

 

 
 
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